Monday, 31 March 2014
In the recent 6 Nations rugby there were some classic examples of players knocking the ball on because they had taken their eyes off the ball, usually because they are distracted by a player about to tackle them. But then in football, players are often accused of “ball watching”, when they are so concentrated on the ball that they don’t notice that a player has been left unmarked.
Monday, 3 March 2014
Visualisation should be an essential part of any athlete’s training because it can have a profound effect on performance. In fact, most athletes probably do use visualisation, but they don’t necessarily use it very effectively, and may even be using it in a way that negatively affects their performance. For instance, if you replay a mistake you’ve made over and over in your head, it’s like practicing making errors so makes it more likely that you’ll make the same mistake again. The first mistake people make is to think that visualisation is just about vision – what you’ve seen. That’s partly because visualisation is something of a misnomer: “mental rehearsal” would be a better term (except I’d have to come up with another “V”) because it allows you to use all your senses to recreate the activity, and that’s when it becomes really powerful. To give you an idea just how powerful it can be, 10 volunteers took part in mental workouts 5 times a week for 12 weeks in which they had to imagine pushing against a heavy object (Ranganathan et al, 2003). They actually increased their bicep muscle strength by 13.5%, and maintained this increase for three months after the training stopped. A famous imagery experiment involved wiring electrodes to the legs of an Alpine skier to test out the notion that vivid imagery produces electrical activity within the muscles similar to the electrical impulses produced during actual movement (Suinn 1980). The experiment showed that when the skier was sitting down, simply thinking of skiing downhill, similar electrical patterns were found in the muscles as if he had actually been skiing. By imaging or visualising yourself playing sport, the muscles you would use to physically perform the task are stimulated at a very low level. This gentle muscle activation is not strong enough to produce actual movements, but it establishes a blueprint for that particular movement or situation. By visualising a successful performance, it makes it more likely that you will produce the correct response while under pressure. The subconscious brain can’t easily distinguish the difference between imagination and reality the way your conscious brain does. This is why dreams can sometimes feel really lifelike. So visualisation is just another form of practice, and it’s much better to practise doing things well than doing them badly. Visualisation can be used for learning new skills, strategies and routines, but it can also be used to motivate, control stress and boost confidence. It can be used to improve concentration and to recover from injury, as well as dealing with errors and stressful situations. It’s also been found that athletes instructed to imagine successfully performing a task voluntarily practised longer than others. You can visualise your performance as you normally see it, or as it might look on TV. Video can help athletes visualise their performance in real time. I’m currently videoing some rugby players in training. The idea is to pick out some of their best bits, and maybe set them to music, so players can use this as part of their pre-match preparation and general confidence booster. It will be interesting to see how it works. David Donner